Reading for 15 minutes a day may be the differentiating factor between a successful student and a struggling student. But why 15 minutes? Shouldn’t any amount of reading each day be enough?

Before we can answer this question, we need to establish a couple of key facts:

  • Studies show that reading practice characteristics consistently differ between struggling students who eventually succeed and those who do not.
  • Studies also show that there is a link between strong reading skills and college enrollment rates.

Reading is essential. We insist that a student cannot be successful without having strong reading skills. Moreover, there is always room for improvement in a student’s performance.

Also Read: Quarantine Booklist 2020: The Best Books to Read With Your Kids This Summer

What does this mean for your child?

According to a study of reading practices of over 9.9 million students across the United States, 54% of students across grade levels read for less than 15 minutes a day. Less than 20% of students read for more than 30 minutes a day, and less than 33% of students read for between 15 and 29 minutes per day.

15 Minutes of Reading a Day Elevates Reading Success

The Amount of Time Spent Reading per Day

Unfortunately, the magic number in gaining stronger reading skills appears to be 15 minutes of reading per day. Over half of our students are not meeting that goal.

Why is 15 minutes the magic number for reading?

In an analysis of the reading times and reading scores of 2.2 million students across the United States, some alarming conclusions came to light. Students who read less than 5 minutes a day saw the lowest level of growth in their reading scores. On average, their scores were also well below the national reading score average as well. Students who read between 5 and 14 minutes per day fared a little better, but their scores were also below the national average.

Reading for 15 Minutes a Day Elevates Student Success

Daily Reading Vs. Student Performance

In fact, students who only read for 15 minutes or more a day saw surging gains in their reading scores. Students who read anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour saw the most significant benefits.

So, what can we take away from this?

Growth in reading skills only happens when students read for at least 15 minutes a day. As we’ve already established, reading skills have a strong connection with student performance. We could then logically assume that students who read less also have lower levels of performance. The opposite would be true for students who read more. Let’s check the data anyway.

The Connection Between Reading Practices and Student Performance

According to a study of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores of over 174,000 students around the world, there is a reliable and vital connection between a student’s reading practice and performance. This study was conducted to analyze a variety of factors that contribute to a student’s literacy proficiency, including but not limited to student engagement in the learning process, gender, and family background. Here are some key takeaways from their study:

1. Gaps in reading scores attributable to different levels of reading engagement are far greater than the reading performance gaps attributable to gender. Although females generally score higher than males in reading, male students who are more engaged in reading tend to outperform female students who are less engaged in reading. Such results suggest that reading engagement is an important factor that distinguishes between high-performing and low-performing students, regardless of their gender.

Reading for 15 Minutes a Day Elevates Student Success

The Relationship Between Reading Scores and Socioeconomic Background

2. Fifteen-year-olds whose parents have the lowest occupational status but who are highly engaged in reading achieve better reading scores than students whose parents have high or medium occupational status but who are poorly engaged in reading. All students who are highly engaged in reading achieve reading literacy scores that, on average, are significantly above the OECD mean, whatever their parents’ occupational background.

When we only look at American students’ performance, it is clear that reading engagement had a higher correlation with reading literacy achievement than several important factors. These factors include:

  • Homework completion time
  • Relationships with teachers
  • A sense of belonging
  • Classroom environment
  • A pressure to achieve.
Reading for 15 Minutes a Day Elevates Student Success

Reading engagement has the highest correlation to reading achievement.

Furthermore, when we use regression analysis, we can see a definite increase in performance in all measures of reading literacy performance with an increase in reading engagement.

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Putting It All Together

We have now established through data that reading more results in better student performance. However, how much of a substantial difference is there between a student who reads for less than 15 minutes a day and a student who reads for more than 30 minutes a day? After all, the difference between the amount of time spent reading is not that significant, right?

Wrong. The difference is a grand 12 million.

By the time a student graduates high school, a student reading for 30 minutes or more a day will encounter 13.7 million words. Guess the number of words their classmates reading for less than 15 minutes a day encounter.

Good job doing the math. They encounter around 1.5 million words.

The students reading for 15 to 29 minutes a day do a little better at around 5.7 million words. However, this is still less than half of what their 30+ minutes a day counterparts.

According to some researchers, on average, students learn one new word for every thousand words they read. This means that the lower reading group will have only learned 1500 new words. The higher reading group will have learned 13,700 new words. That’s over nine times the vocabulary growth!

According to this study, the relationship between reading achievement and the size of a student’s vocabulary is one of great importance.

The research findings indicated that there was a medium correlation between vocabulary and narrative text comprehension. In addition, there was a large correlation between vocabulary and expository text comprehension. Compared to the narrative text comprehension, vocabulary was also a strong predictor of expository text comprehension. Vocabulary made more contribution to expository text comprehension than narrative text comprehension.

So start reading right away!

We realize now that reading practices affect both the vocabulary growth of a student and the reading achievement of a student. Unfortunately, so many of our students are not getting the amount of reading practice they need to ensure positive, significant results.

As a parent or educator, it is our responsibility to ensure our children have the necessary tools to achieve success. We recommend that you implement this magic number in reading. 

For more info on what to get your child to read while at home, check out our book recommendations for this summer
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Posted by Irfhana Zakir Hussain

Irfhana Zakir Hussain is an undergraduate student in Computer Science and Engineering with Big Data Analytics. A lover of both STEM and humanities, she combines the two by writing analytical pieces on essential topics in education. In 2016, she was one of 15 students worldwide selected to speak at the inaugural TED-Ed Weekend. There, Irfhana navigated the complex issue of solving the effects of racism and intersectionality on educational opportunities.